Whether we are conscious of it or not, sound surrounds us virtually every moment of the day. There are good sounds – ones that soothe, calm, heal, energize or simply make us smile – and those which have the opposite effect, stressing both body and mind – think sirens, jackhammers, lawnmowers and so on. With its power to create both positive and negative responses throughout the body, it’s important to be conscious of the types of sound we’re exposing ourselves to every day.
As a sustainable wellness practitioner and life-long world music fan, I believe one of the simplest, most important gifts you can give yourself is the gift of music. Why? Because listening to all those “good” sounds enhance and support health. It’s also one of the easiest ways out there to help yourself feel great, which is why I encourage everyone to enjoy multiple doses of musical medicine. Here are a few thoughts on the power of sound to keep in mind as you move – and groove – through your day:
It’s Only Natural – You’ve Been Rocking the Beat Since Before You Were Born
The first sensory organ to develop in the womb is the ear. The first sense to become functional is hearing, beginning at about four and a half months before birth. From that primordial point onward, the inner ear spends its time transforming soundwaves into electrical impulses which go to the brain and stimulate emotional responses. From sounds that soothe and calm to those that agitate and excite, sound, and more specifically music, connects us to our most primal, emotional aspects of ourselves, no language skills required.
Sounds Good to Me, But Hold Off on the Heavy Metal
Carefully selected music and sounds can have powerful therapeutic benefits, lowering heart rate, slowing respiration, decreasing blood pressure, reducing muscle tension and increasing feelings of well-being. In general, classical, new age, instrumentals, nature sounds and music with binaural beats (those frequencies which help calm and balance brain wave activity) tend to deliver the most soothing effects. However, music taste is personal so feel free to develop your own playlist as studies indicate that just about any music that you love will offer benefits. I would however suggest limiting heavy metal or aggressive music to the treadmill, particularly if your larger mission is to heal and calm the body in your off-hours.
Music Moves You From the Inside
In addition to making you want to sway, dance or just tap your feet, there are numerous other ways the body responds to sound – and they’re all good. According to noted musicologist and author Don Campbell, physiological and psychological reactions include: slowed down brain wave activity; increased endorphin levels; better regulation of stress-related hormones; pain control; boosted immunity; improved digestion; altered perception of time and space – and enhanced romance and sexual feelings. Understood in this way, we start to realize the amazing power of sound and music and how easily we can harness it to enhance our health.
Can You Help Me, Dr. Beat?
Certain sounds can help speed entry into different states of consciousness, in part by slowing down brainwave activity, music is a wonderful tool to help make you feel more peaceful, which sets the stage for better and faster healing. In fact, I use music every day to help amplify acupuncture’s effects. After placing the needles, I’ll have patients listen to music in the 60-beats-per-minute range, which is ideal for helping to induce alpha states – the same relaxed state that’s induced by meditation. Among my favorite alpha-inducers, with or without acupuncture treatment, are the albums Reiki Chants, Chakra Chants, The Lost Chord, and De-Stress by musician Jonathan Goldman, who has spent much of his career studying and working with sound as a healing force.
Ears are Great, But Learn to Listen with Your Body
While I am all for listening to your body, I also believe it’s important to listen with your body, with eyes closed, in order to truly tune in to the sounds that help us relax and heal. Without visual stimuli, hearing music becomes more acute, enabling you to take in the full spectrum of sounds and feel the vibrations of the sounds in your body. Listening this way also helps you to be in the moment, to be mindful, to access deeper states of consciousness and expand awareness. Chanting, toning, drumming, Tibetan singing bowls, Chinese meditation gongs and mantras are also equally powerful sound alternatives which anyone can use to calm, soothe and stimulate healing in the body while simultaneously refreshing the mind.
Go With the Flow and Be Here Now
Music is so much more than just entertainment – it is an ancient and sacred form of medicine with wonderful side-effects, head-to-toe, body and soul. With its power to uplift, inspire, energize and heal, music and sound enables us to reconnect with and release our most primal emotions, enabling us to feel what at times can be difficult to express. I have found it helps to release, let go and reconnect to deeper levels of our being, our deepest feelings and even our “souls.” Sound bypasses the thinking mind, the rational mind, and is able to touch us at a core level. Music is a universal language, and that’s probably why I love world music so much. It’s not necessary to understand the words, only to feel the rhythm. As Bob Marley said, “the thing about music is that when it hits, you feel no pain.”